Friday, February 16, 2007

KAK: The True Electric Sailors

The title of this blog comes from a song by the short-lived psychedelic rock group KAK, who produced only one album (KAK, in 1968) before quickly splitting up.

The lead singer is Gary Yoder, originally of the Oxford Circle, a band of spotty-faced young 'uns hanging out around UC-Davis in Sacramento and finding themselves, based on talent alone, big fish in a small pond. More and more the band took road trips to San Francisco to play the big venues such as the Avalon and the Fillmore, opening for the likes of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band and Them. They cut a single, "Foolish Woman," then split apart just as they were beginning to make a name for themselves. It was 1967 and the Summer of Love.

But Yoder, presumably on the strength and popularity of Oxford Circle, was offered a contract with CBS Records/Epic if he could quickly get a band together. He reunited with lead guitarist Dehner Patten of OC and recruited Joseph Damrell (of Group B) and Christopher Lockheed, and on a major label's budget, they spent the summer of 1968 in San Francisco writing the music. The album was assembled in roughly a week, received modest airplay, and disappeared into obscurity along with the stacks-full of other Bay Area bands that had been hastily signed in the aftermath of the mainstream success of Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Either due to a lack of chemistry or a manager, the band parted ways quickly. But the album still holds up pretty well. Although the lyrics are naive and simple, the band's music has a charm, striding a line between folk and R&B. Kak bashed out some pretty decent songs that are a cut above most of the psych rip-offs of the day--perhaps because the band's intentions were genuine. Some are a bit too hastily-written, like the slightly smug opener "HCO 97658" (named after the id number for their studio session--a good indication for the amount of thought put into the track), but others stay with you, like the "Trieulogy"--a medley of three songs that form the album's centerpiece--and the ballroom-rocker "Disbelievin'."

But ultimately Kak was put together by luck, and the album released by chance. The sound holds up, and the album, which isn't too dissimilar from Moby Grape's debut, is inescapably likeable. It was rereleased in 1999 on the U.K. label Big Beat Records, as part of their "Nuggets from the Golden State" collection of reissues.

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